Kapa haka hits the audience bang-slap in the emotional solar plexus.
That is because it is a performance art form that encompasses the past, the present and the future. It pours off the stage in a cascade of sound, movement and energy, underpinned with history and culture, and it is pure power in action.
Freyberg High School kapa haka junior leader Akeila Araroa-Waerea pauses thoughtfully before she talks about the art.
"It is something traditional, that started long before I was born. Generations ago. And it has carried on through the generations, to the present," she says.
"It's like a path that expresses your emotions and your feeling through Maoritanga, about being Maori."
The year 10 student is in the school's Rumaki or Maori immersion unit, learning all her classes, except English and maths, in Maori.
"PE, integrated studies (such as social studies), science, health and, of course, Maori are all taught in Maori," she says.
Kapa haka is an important part of the Rumaki, and kapa haka leaders have a special place to fill.
She was picked as junior leader when staff saw her talent, application and potential, and she says the role carries big responsibilities, to help classmates and set a good example for them. All-out, 100 per cent effort and enthusiasm are what's required, and what she does her best to deliver. And she has got shoes to fill in future – the junior leader role segues into the senior leader's role.
She's a national kapa haka representative as well, part of Te Piringa, the national kapa haka group for Manawatu, hosted by Freyberg High School. "I started there. You're given a trial, things to learn, and if you show you are interested and you practise and improve, they'll pick you."
Te Piringa has students from Freyberg High School, Palmerston North Girls' High and Boys' High schools and Mana Tamariki. They practise every Wednesday night, and once a month have noho marae; a weekend-long marae stay-over at Te Kupunga at Massey University's College of Education. The weekends extend and consolidate Maoritanga learning.
"Kapa haka demands 100 per cent commitment. It's become my sport ... who I am, really."
Akeila, whose iwi is Ngati Awa, from Te Teko Whakatane, has grown up in Palmerston North. She says she had an on-again, off-again start to her Maori language studies.
"I started at a kohanga reo, but then I went to a mainstream primary, and I sort of lost all my Maori. Then year eight, second year at intermediate, I came back to it, at Monrad, in their bilingual unit. Pa [Brett] Cribb was my teacher there, he's amazing."
Her language progressed so well she chose Rumaki immersion for her secondary education.
Akeila won the junior Maori section of the regional Manu Korero speech competitions this year and went to Tauranga for the nationals. She placed fifth there and was pleased with that achievement.
"First year at the nationals, it's a good start."
She spoke on the topic: What is the path that will revitalise my Maori, my language? Her conclusion was that the best course was through education, learning and knowledge, through school and teachers and elders who could hand on the knowledge.
For the future, she is interested in film and television. She recently had a week's work experience with Maori Television in Auckland, and was fascinated by the work that goes into producing a screen segment or programme.
"Editing, producing, directing, presenting, and then there is all the scheduling and organising behind all that, to get it together. There is so much to do."
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- Manawatu Standard
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